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Bliss

Director: Joe Begos

Writer: Joe Begos

Starring: Dora Madison, Graham Skipper, Tru Collins, Jeremy Gardner


A brilliant painter facing the worst creative block of her life turns to anything she can to complete her masterpiece, spiraling into a hallucinatory hellscape of drugs, sex, and murder in the sleazy underbelly of Los Angeles. Initial Reaction C. How do you begin with Bliss? With such a personal piece of work, to make any comment feels as though you’re commenting on Joe Begos himself. This is an incredible step forward for Begos, whose previous work, though entertaining, fell into the realm of “fanboy movies” by some reviewers. As fun as Mind’s Eye was it was consistently called Scanners 2 and the movie itself relishes in that.  However, a lot of times when you make something that pays so much homage to another movie… you’d rather just watch Cronenberg’s Scanners. That all being said, there was some preconceived notions that I had going into my viewing of Bliss.  I’m happy to report that those notions were destroyed within the first minute. Bliss enters into a realm of pure artistic expression, yet avoids becoming a vanity project. It’s one of those rare instances where it beat the odds based on so many elements that have tanked even the most well-seasoned director’s movie. Now if you’re intention is to watch a more straightforward vampire flick, this may not be what you had in mind, despite lots of blood. The use of filming in 16mm gives the movie a gritty, tangible quality that makes you feel “icky” after watching it, in the same way I felt watching Street Trash. This however, is more artistically handled than Street Trash, as much as I enjoy the color pallet used in that film. The irony is that Begos, who has referenced hating the term “elevated horror” (as one should), has made a horror movie destined to draw that type of pseudo-arthouse crowd… if they can handle the bloodshed of course. There are a few pieces of criticism that don’t hurt a film that’s more focused on its visuals over narrative but they did come up. The major thing I noticed comes from the tonal shift, which is necessary. There’s a general rule of thumb in most narrative cinema that you should establish the character’s “normal” world and when they enter into uncharted territory, they must find a new “norm.” In Spiderman, Peter Parker is a nerdy teenager, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider, his life is forever changed and he can’t go back to being the teenager he once was. While I don’t believe it’s necessary, Begos uses this rule and the plot is based around the (“on-the-nose”) concept of someone physically becoming different/entering a new world… so it is open for criticism. The issue with Bliss is that based on what new world the protagonist enters, it requires a large shift. She’s not just realizing she’s becoming a vampire, but coming to the realization that vampires are real, and that drinking blood is like this insane drug trip. That’s a big difference from an L.A. artist that smokes pot and occasionally does blow/other recreational drugs. I acknowledge there is a shift between the original “norm” and the crazy end, there’s even a shift when she is first turned. However, when she’s taking Diablo (another drug) most of the same lighting and visual effects are used as when she’s consuming the blood. Because the change is so slight initially, we are not able to see the true impact/differentiate the high that the blood provides. As the story moves forward, this is redeemed but it feels like a missed opportunity for the audience. Some could say screw the audience but then why the hell are you making something that is displayed to the public? My last issue deals with the protagonist as an unlikable character. First repeat after me, “you do not need a likable character.” But if you’re going to have an unlikable protagonist they better be compelling. About halfway there’s a point where our protagonist is at peak unlikability and she stops becoming compelling. We experience character arc territory that almost enters meandering with more examples of how this drug (the blood) has turned her into a “dope fiend.” Luckily, that issue resolves itself quickly thanks to a major shift where gore and her conscience enter the picture. Movies that are purposefully bad, you can overlook certain things because “it’s meant to be bad.” In the same sense, Bliss’ use of experimentation and symbolism over traditional narrative cuts it some slack when the film may come up short on these cinematic rules that modern audiences know at a subconscious level. J. WARNING: If you’re not a fan of sex, drugs and heavy metal, you will be turned off by Bliss. I happen to be a fan of all three so, Bliss is amazing.  I’ve loved Joe Begos his entire career and for me, he hits the highest note possible with this film.  For one, he takes the vampire concept and does something completely original with it, which is no small feat as far as I’m concerned.  The “V-word” never comes up in the film and that’s something I admire.  We know what the hell is going on but we also don’t need to be force fed.  From what I understand, the film is somewhat autobiographical, which makes it all the more impressive.  Metaphors and all that fancy, academic shit are at play in something that is a gory rampage of a good time.  Begos shoots the scenes in an experimental, avante garde way that perfectly matches the story he’s telling.  Visuals are lush, vibrant and fitting and I think that’s somewhat of a rarity nowadays.  You can tell that he is having a blast and doing so on his own terms instead of what might be considered “safe.”  In terms of some of the visuals, Begos uses the Aronofsky actor harness shots from Requiem For A Dream but he does so in a way that out Aronofsy’s Aronofsky.  One thing I don’t talk about enough in my reviews is editing.  And Josh Ethier edits the ever loving shit outta this thing.  It’s a high pitched fever dream aesthetic that once again, works wonders for the story Begos is telling.  Steve Moore’s score and the mix of metal artists on the soundtrack compliment everything perfectly.  Much of the dialogue in the movie isn’t really that important, which I think is kind of a blessing.  You only need the action to really be engaged in the story and what’s going on.  The character of Dezzy is working on a painting that she first has to finish to make money to live but then because her passion and the “Bliss” has taken over.  What she ends up creating is definitely a masterpiece and the moment when she does finish is such a moment of bliss for her that you realize the film has more than one meaning behind it.  If the autobiographical bit is true for Joe Begos, I salute that motherfucker because the film, Bliss, is without question his masterpiece and I love him all the more for letting me experience it.  K.  This is my second time seeing Bliss and it’s even better on the second go around.  I had the pleasure of seeing a midnight screening of Bliss at Cinepocalypse and it was a doozy.  The perfect midnight movie.  The gritty aesthetic and handheld camerawork really suited the down and dirty vibe of the film.  Early on I was worried that the film might get repetitive when we don’t really know what’s happening to Dezzy and we’re playing the ‘is she crazy? Is she not?’ game, but even then it managed to find compelling ways to build tension and pile on the insanity.  Unlike most of the shit we watch, this is really one where the less you know going in the better, so for once I don’t want to spoil anything by saying too much.  All I’ll say is it’s a masterpiece of punk rock horror cinema, the likes of which we really don’t see much anymore.  There was a Q&A with Joe Begos after the screening I attended and one of the filmmakers he mentioned was Abel Ferrera, which is an apt comparison in terms of uncompromising, in-your-face-filmmaking.  If you’re in to that, you’ll be into Bliss. Response C. Bliss is the type of film where directors think to themselves, “man, wouldn’t it be awesome to make a movie like this meets this with tons of crazy imagery?” And all those directors will never make a film like it because somebody/they’ll convince themselves it wouldn’t work. Better left as a crazy idea then trying to bring it to reality. Joe Begos provided proof that it’s possible and damn good. Is it his masterpiece like everyone is saying? I can’t say that since I’m hoping this is the start of something greater from the director. If he continually brings so much of himself into his work, while maturing as a filmmaker/person, I think we’ll see something truly spectacular. J. Depending on the day of the week you ask me, Bliss was my film of the year in 2019.  It really fits my sensibilities and I connect with it on a personal level almost 100%.  So what I’m saying is that I can’t endorse this film enough.  It’s gorgeous and brutal and brings to light a new take on the vampire story which horror cinema has been lacking in recent years.  Joe Begos is becoming a bonafide horror auteur and Bliss is all the proof the statement needs.  K.  Craig described the go-for-broke filmmaking style of Bliss perfectly.  It really is the kind of kamikaze cinema that we need more of.  Immediate, uncompromising, risky.  You can’t help but admire the guts on display here.  I will answer Craig’s question with a resounding: “Yes, it is his masterpiece!”  That being said I can’t fucking wait to see VFW and what’s next from Begos because I’m certain he will continue to top himself in the coming years.  Don’t miss Bliss it drops on Shudder this Thursday (1/30)! Bloodhound’s average score: 5 out of 5